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The Things You Think You Know: Myth Busting in Classic Menswear

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by Caustic Man, Jul 29, 2016.

  1. heldentenor

    heldentenor Senior member

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    That's a strict, but perhaps useful, division between "informal" and the capacious "casual" category. Does it follow that an item of clothing itself should be consigned to one category or the other?

    I could think of some sticking points concerning shirts, shoes, and ties.
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2016


  2. Caustic Man

    Caustic Man Senior member

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    Generally speaking, yes. For instance, wearing a business appropriate necktie with a dinner jacket doesn't casualize the dinner jacket, it's just incongruent. I think you can categorize accessories such as shirts, shoes, and ties much more than you might think. This isn't to say that there aren't exceptions, but I think they would be relatively few.
     


  3. heldentenor

    heldentenor Senior member

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    Agreed. I also think you have the correct premise with this thread--that we're better off thinking about the history and context of application than about absolutes related to the type of item being considered. "This doesn't make sense as part of an informal ensemble" is much less likely to result in silly absolutes than "suits don't go with derbies" or "white linen doesn't work with odd jackets."

    How do you categorize, though? Is the categorization a case-by-case consideration, or a litmus test based on the presence or absence of a feature?

    For example, some posters, with their most accomplished exemplar being @Pliny , believe that neat tie patterns categorically belong with suits and not odd jackets. It's not clear if he means that they fall in the "casual" category but belong with non-business suits, or if he firmly associates them with the "informal" category of clothing. A case-by-case or composite approach would say that an ancient madder or wool challis with large, complex patterns is "casual" while a plain weave silk with dots is "informal," while a litmus test would say that neats belong in one camp or the other.

    The nerd in me is getting excited, but using your categories of formality, at first glance I think you could further divide those who think about sartorial coherence into four categories: categorical absolutists, categorical permissives, composite spectrum-ists, and idiosyncratists. I'll elaborate once I've let that idea breathe and decided if I'm full of shit or not.
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2016


  4. Caustic Man

    Caustic Man Senior member

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    That's an interesting question and one that I was thinking on earlier today. In a certain sense it depends on what you mean by 'feature'. Is a captoe oxford simply a plain toed shoe that features an extra layer of leather on the toe? It also depends somewhat on your opinion of what is business appropriate since this is related, though not exclusive, to the category of informal. In Iowa, for example, people consider a navy blazer with brass buttons to be business appropriate. This is absurd, of course. And while 'business appropriate' does not entirely describe the informal category, much of what is business appropriate is informal. It is also important to note that these categories do not suggest value. In other words, an absolutist, a permissive, and whatever else can exist in this framework because utility does not necessarily define the categories. To take the earlier example, the fact that wearing a business tie with a dinner jacket does not casual the dinner jacket makes no claim on whether this it is correct to wear such a combination. This is why the categories can exist alongside the idea that rules don't really exist. The dinner jacket and business tie remain incongruent, but to some incongruence is a desirable trait. In the case of neat ties, then, they would exist firmly in the informal category. Their use in casual contexts is incongruent, though not prohibited. Ancient madder ties are, in my opinion, in the casual category and can never be considered informal.
     


  5. FlyingMonkey

    FlyingMonkey Senior member

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    In other words, you keep strictly - at least in theory - to an archaic code that is based in norms established at the turn of the 20th Century in Britain and the North-Eastern USA (my first category). Many people on this forum do too, although few in practice ever have anything to do with true 'formal.' I know this code far better than most born-again iGents because it still governed the world in which I grew up (British military officer's family, private boarding schools, Oxford University) and consequently I entirely rejected everything about it for a long time (but that's a long story). The problem is that most people do not understand 'formal' in that precise, categorical way, and when they say things like 'black shoes are more formal', the word has some historical resonance or connection with how you understand it, but it's changed, it's looser and not remotely precise. Formal is a suit, or even just anything with which a tie is worn. Certainly they'd recognise what you call formal as formal too, really formal, but in those terms it is a spectrum. And that's why people come up with rules like 'black shoes are more formal', right? You can't call that a 'myth' because the mythic beings here, the anachronistic creatures rarely seen in the vast expanse of the contemporary world, are us not them.
     


  6. Thin White Duke

    Thin White Duke Senior member

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    So instead of being bound by rigid rules, we're now into discussing rigid categoriezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ... I'm out!
     


  7. Caustic Man

    Caustic Man Senior member

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    In a sense, yes I'm categorizing things in a fairly strict way but not necessarily because I want to. Rather, things generally fall into strict categories when they have been refined for centuries. The problem with the black shoe thing, and the thing that makes it a myth, is that it never was a color that was considered more formal. Again, it's category v. utility. Just because something is in a category doesn't exclude it from certain uses. It's all about what you want to do. However, the big kicker with this issue is simply that there are black shoes that are demonstrably and undoubtedly casual, while there are some brown dress shoes that are undeniably informal. This simple fact alone destroys the idea that black shoes are necessarily "more formal" even if you reject the idea of rigid categories.
     


  8. gs77

    gs77 Senior member

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    If I may add, obsessing about rules is also very American thing. Maybe because, as you correctly point out, rules are needed by people who didn't grow up in environment where tailored cloths are worn, I'd add, where decent and healthy food was served, where certain or any books were read etc etc. In one word, class!
    Now, not that North American society has no class, quite contrary, but class is something to be ashamed of, something very un-american. That's why everybody go by rules. If you don't follow rules, you are either communist, or you belong to "class" or you're just plain crazy.
     


  9. Caustic Man

    Caustic Man Senior member

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    Some of what you say about American society is very true.
     


  10. SpooPoker

    SpooPoker Internet Bigtimer and Most Popular Man on Campus Dubiously Honored Affiliate Vendor

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    The belt must match the shoes.

    Categorically untrue.
     


  11. Caustic Man

    Caustic Man Senior member

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    Well, not really. In a sense they are rigid categories in that there is no gradient between them, however, they are not really rigid in the sense that things enter in and out of these categories over time. They are not static, in other words. A good example is the dinner jacket. The dinner jacket, as we all know, was not considered a formal thing in the beginning but became one over time. It's not that it was gradually becoming more and more formal, rather people simply wore it to the point that it was accepted on formal occasions. Therefore, it did not go through a gradation process, but entered the formal category upon its acceptance as a formal garment.


    Bazinga! You should write that one. If you can pull yourself away from raking in the mad stacks, of course.
     


  12. SpooPoker

    SpooPoker Internet Bigtimer and Most Popular Man on Campus Dubiously Honored Affiliate Vendor

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    Didnt I just write it?
    :)

    If you mean extrapolate on it, I think the belt is just another layer to the outfit and not bound only to the shoes. Just because its two leather pieces doesn't mean they have to match. It should be cohesive to the outfit as a whole.
     


  13. Caustic Man

    Caustic Man Senior member

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    Well yes, but preferably with some kind of evidence to support it. lol

    I agree, btw, even though I usually end up matching the two. I do not feel any reluctance to have mis-matched (though complimentary) shoes and belt.
     


  14. SpooPoker

    SpooPoker Internet Bigtimer and Most Popular Man on Campus Dubiously Honored Affiliate Vendor

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    I see. My pictures are mostly pieced - I don't have any that show the whole but ill see if I can dig one up.
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2016


  15. smittycl

    smittycl Senior member

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    Belt does not have to match the shoes but it looks so much better when it does. One of those things women notice instantly. Match the watch band if you can. Not rule at all but telegraphs clear attention to detail.
     


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